Friday, December 19, 2008

We Wish You an Inoffensive Holiday

The other day, I swear I saw a commercial with people singing “we wish you a happy holidays.” Now, I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the lyrics to that Christmas classic actually include the word Christmas. Also merry.

The whole “war on Christmas” thing has been done to death, honestly. Those unfortunate enough to work in retail at this time of year experience all sorts of backlash for whatever season’s greeting they choose: “Merry Christmas” often draws criticism from a superior, “Happy Holidays” makes many customers angry, and actually saying “Season’s Greetings” makes them sound like poorly-programmed robots.

(I realize the previous paragraph is filled with extremely broad generalizations. There are some people, somewhere, who are actually offended by “Merry Christmas,” but I’ve never encountered them outside of the internet and talk radio.)

I’ll never forget the issue of American Girl Magazine I got many years ago, back when I, myself, was an American Girl. It was the holiday issue. You have to understand that this magazine always went to great pains to be all-inclusive; nothing in that magazine implied that any of its readership would be celebrating any holiday in particular, even though I’m sure 90% of them had a Christmas tree. You want Kwanzaa activities? They had Kwanzaa activities.

Now, this particular year, as a craft activity, they featured some kind christmas-scene of ornament you could make with bend-up wire hangers or something. Typical American Girl fare. Bear in mind that, at no point in the instructions did they refer to “hanging it on a tree.” This ornament could go in your window, or on your festive Solstice Snowman for all they cared. They featured many different shapes and colors, all of which were inoffensively winter-themed.

Still, in the following issue, they printed a letter from a disgruntled Jewish girl, wanting to know “what they were supposed to do if they celebrated Hanukkah.” If I’d been on that editorial team, my response would have been “make a Star of David and stop having a complex about it.” Luckily, I wasn’t. The real-life editorial team explained, gingerly, that it was their understanding that this craft activity could be adapted to any holiday.

I guess my point in all this is pretty simple. If an overworked clerk at Target says Happy Holidays to you, or if a magazine features a craft activity that looks suspiciously Christmas-y, it is really, honestly, not a personal attack on you or your faith.

Newsflash to everyone: pretty much nobody cares how you celebrate this time of year. The small percentage of people that do care aren’t the people that you need to worry about. The people who will ultimately disenfranchise you are the people who are trying way, way too hard not to hurt your feelings.

The whole concept of taking a Christmas carol and changing the lyrics so it’s no longer about Christmas? Bizarre. Plus, if you carry this out to its natural conclusion, it becomes painfully redundant: We wish you a happy holidays, and a happy New Year. What?

Here’s the thing. This time of year is about love and family and giving and feeling that warm fuzzy feeling inside. The modern Christmas celebration is a big part of that, and you know what? That is okay. It doesn’t mean your holiday is any less of a holiday. Celebrate it with pride. If someone says Merry Christmas to you, they are wishing you joy in their own way. Smile, and respond with whatever greeting makes you the most comfortable. The same goes if someone says Happy Holidays, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Whatever. In the unlikely event that someone’s actually trying to upset you with their chosen holiday greeting, they’re not the type of person who deserves positive reinforcement. Grin and bear it.

There is a surprising amount of joy and peace to be found in the realization that most people just want to do their own thing, and let you do yours. If we can all start living like responsible adults who don’t care what other people do to celebrate the holidays in their own homes, then the world would be a much happier place.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lorena Bobbitt ain’t got nothin on Teeth

Teeth is, of course, about vagina dentata. And like the mythical phenomenon itself, it's a heavy metaphor for the strength and power that women possess. When it comes to portraying vagina dentata, it's nearly impossible to go wrong: man tries to take advantage of woman, woman's vagina bites off his penis. Game, set, and match.

Where Teeth fails is its attempt at an accurate portrayal of young Christians. Admittedly I'm tough to fool, having grown up in exactly the kind of group of friends that the protagonist is meant to be a part of. There's a temptation to believe that abstinent teenagers are teethposters-793555 particularly perverse in their own way, more likely to talk about, obsess about, and engage in particularly freaky sex. Sadly, that's not the case: they're just like anyone else, and while many of them have issues of guilt and shame surrounding the act, it doesn't turn them all into sluts or rapists.

And it doesn't turn them into victims, either. By the end of Teeth, our heroine takes a sort of pleasure in putting herself in sexually harmful situations so she can have her sweet, toothy revenge.

The first man to take advantage of Dawn is a young boy she meets at the abstinence group where she speaks, and as he rapes her, first he is angry at her for denying him, even though he is self-admittedly responsible for his own sexual frustration: “I haven’t even jerked off since Easter!” Then he is comforting: “don’t worry, you’re still pure in His eyes.”

It’s true, you can be a born-again virgin. You can even get your hymen surgically replaced if that’s your bag. But, although modern Protestant Christianity is founded on the principle that you can be forgiven for any transgression, basing your choices on the hope of a last-minute deathbed confession misses the whole point. And Dawn understands that all too well – she throws her purity ring off a cliff after the rape.

(I once lost mine down the drain. Symbolic?)

After that, Dawn becomes a professional victim, bouncing from abusive man to abusive man, leaving a trail of severed extremities in her wake. And this becomes her legacy – her power. She’s like the vengeful matron saint of molested girls, wreaking the kind of revenge that they cannot.

The problem with Dawn’s power is that she doesn’t control it. While she learns its foibles and becomes accustomed to the vicious fangs that lash out at men to whom she doesn’t grant entrance, she still must put herself into traumatic situations in order to display her true colors.

The true power of womanhood lies not in the mysterious, the mythological, or the ill-understood. Being a strong, capable woman is pretty much the opposite of lying back and letting your genitalia do the talking. For all her mythical power, Dawn is still doing what victims do. And a movie that could have held a powerful message about true female strength becomes just another bloody black comedy.

I give it a 5/10.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Weirdo Pride

I have been a weirdo for most of my life. I know it’s an ill-defined term, but it’s also the only way I can think to describe my life. Everything else sounds pretentious: outcast? A “sense of otherness?” Gag me with a rake.

But yeah, I’ve always been a weirdo. A lot of it was self-inflicted, but a lot of it was just me – I was weird, I was quiet, I liked things that other kids had never heard of. (This was back when the Lord of the Rings fandom was dominated by college professors, not twelve-year-old girls.) The internet was a godsend; I spent most of my time there mingling with adults who enjoyed Jane Austen, never letting on to the fact that I was just a kid.

It’s no surprise that I’ve grown up to despise precocious little children. Now I can see their obvious immaturity, the way they talk a big talk, yet lack the emotional insight to deal with…anything, really. Maybe there are a lot of kids who are slipping under my radar by failing to mention their ages, as I hope I did.

My whole life I had to deal with “the homeschooling issue.” I had the following conversation about eight million times:

“So where do you go to school?”

“I’m homeschooled.”

“Ohmigod, really? You seem so down-to-earth! I mean I’m not saying you should be stuck up or something, but wow, that’s just, your mom must have been really committed to your education! Do you get to wake up whenever you want? Are you going to college? BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH HEE DA.”

I very seldom ran into negative reactions, since most people are tactful enough to keep their thoughts to themselves in casual social interactions. There was one notable exception: two fifty-something women in line outside a store (it was a Beanie Baby thing, back when those were cool) who confronted my mom about homeschooling me. Basically, they explained (in front of me) how I was going to be socially retarded for the rest of my life and how she was a Bad Mother (true, but for different reasons). When she explained that she had worked in the school system for eleven years and was a bit soured on the whole thing as a result, they just blustered on about how IT WAS DIFFERENT NOW AND SHE WAS SO OUT OF TOUCH AND YOUR POOR DAUGHTER IS ALREADY SUFFERING LOOK AT HOW SHE WON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH US. (Because you’re a huge bitch, lady.)

I did have quite a few intensely awkward social experiences growing up, but I soon discovered that I'd just been unlucky. As soon as I move on to junior college, I had no problem making friends. It wasn't hard to find people who shared my interests and sense of humor, and even the same group of dubious acquaintances I grew up with in the homeschooling world had matured and branched out and were a lot of fun. But even then, I continued to be the weirdo.

Instinctively, I presented myself as being relatively normal by using words like "curfew" (I'd never had one, since I had nowhere to go) instead of "my mom doesn't let me go anywhere" and "my ride is here" instead of "my mom is here to pick me up since I don't have a license." It worked. I had a good time there. I blended in, somehow.

Nowadays I am a weirdo again. I met my husband on The Internet. (Trust me, those Dateline jokes never get old.) We work nights and sleep during the day (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP CALLING BEFORE 6PM OR I WILL PERSONALLY STAB YOU IN THE FACE). I don't have a ton of friends knocking down my door. While I have a license now, I don't have a car, and a Big Day Out consists of a trip to Walmart, Target, AND Friendly's. From a certain point of view, my life is relatively lame. Sometimes I feel the need to defend it. But other times I realize, hey. This is just me. This is how I live. And I know I'm not the only one, thanks to the internet.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Futurama: Bender’s Game ain’t no Orson Scott Card

That probably sounds more insulting than I intended it. I like Orson Scott Card, to a point. Speaker for the Dead is one of the greatest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. But the sci-fi classic Ender’s Game is still considered his magnum opus, and it was this title that the Futurama folks decided to parody when they made their third installment in the four-part film series.

Bender’s Game is sort of like Ender’s Game in the sense that people playing a game are actually doing things in real life. Sort of. But in reality it’s a Dungeons and Dragons/Lord of the Rings parody, which would have been a lot more relevant five years ago.

The plot revolves around fuel and fuel demand: dark matter, the substance that keeps ships running in the Futurama universe, is being controlled by Mom’s evil corporation and Farnsworth has a plan to stop her. Meanwhile, Bender is deep into Dungeons and Dragons, to the point where he must seek psychiatric help. It’s all about as exciting as it sounds.

It has the usual chuckles of any Futurama episode, but when compared to the previous movies, especially The Beast with a Billion Backs, it’s kind of…dull. I’m also not entirely sure what point it’s trying to make. You might think cartoons don’t need a point, but Futurama usually has one, and Bender’s Game feels out of place in this regard.

I give this one a 6/10.